New Delhi: Siddharth Varadarajan, a founding editor of The Wire, noted that the weakening of independent journalism in India reflects the decline of democracy itself. “Those at the helm of affairs dictating how journalism should be is most regressive,” he observed.
Varadarajan was in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday, January 29, to deliver the keynote address on ‘The challenges faced by independent journalism in the 21st century’ during an event organised to observe the Indian Newspaper Day by the Information and Public Relations department of the Kerala government.
According to Varadarajan, the biggest threat to independent journalism is the political attitude of those in power deciding what should appear in print, visual and online media. “The government has various facilities at its disposal for it to communicate its policies and achievements to the public. That is not the job of the media. But, unfortunately, today things are happening the other way around. Many mainstream media houses have become the megaphone of the government. In a democratic setup, media should not behave like the spokesperson of the government, but it should be led by the people, the constitution of the country, and the liberty guaranteed by the constitution,” Varadarajan pointed out.
Stating that although there were many incidents of governments muzzling media and media freedom in the past, today it has grown to an unprecedented level. “The unofficial censoring of news and observations related to any particular issues stand testimony to this. Such censoring has resulted in a situation where the state continuously decides what people should read, watch and speak,” he elaborated.
He further added that the declining people’s trust in media is another challenge being faced by independent media. “People are reluctant to believe the news they read or watch nowadays. This is due to the retreat of media from objective journalism and from asking unpleasant questions to power,” he added.
Kerala’s minister for local bodies and excise, M.B. Rajesh, inaugurated the function. According to him, the challenges faced by the free media are the challenges faced by democracy itself. Rajesh took a dig at a section of mainstream media which, according to him, has been succumbing to political pressure. He lamented that such media houses are not willing to raise their voices when “press freedom is curtailed before their eyes”.
“Many media houses are competing with each other to trumpet the ‘achievements’ of those in power. This major change has happened only in the last few years. India, the largest democratic country, stands at a poor 150th position in the Press Freedom Index released by ‘Reporters without Borders’. But surprisingly, it was not a major piece of news for the media in India,” he said.
Kerala media academy chairman R.S. Babu presided over the function. Information and Public Relations department secretary Puneet Kumar and Kerala Union of Working Journalists’ general secretary R. Kiran Babu were among others who spoke.
In a panel discussion that followed, Newslaundry‘s co-founder and CEO Abhinandan Sekhri; The News Minute‘s editor Dhanya Rajendran; Caravan‘s executive editor Vinod K. Jose; Sidharth Varadarajan of The Wire; noted journalists Josy Joseph, Johnny Lukose, and V.B. Parameshwaran took part. Veteran journalist M.G. Radhakrishnan moderated the discussion.